Operation Respect’s New CEO on Why She Joined the Organization
For veteran educator Molly McCloskey, whose career has been spent advocating for the needs of the whole child, being asked by Operation Respect founder Peter Yarrow to take over the reins of the organization was “an amazing and humbling experience.”
“Operation Respect was founded by a man who was committed to social change in everything he’s done personally and professionally. It’s rare that you have a founder (of an organization that advocates peaceful conflict resolution) who lives in peace in the way that Peter does and has for 50 years,” said McCloskey, who became CEO in May 2015. “To take over from a legend is both intimidating and challenging. For me, Operation Respect represents the integrity with which I have tried to work throughout my entire career.”
That career started with McCloskey serving as a school counselor and then classroom teacher for a public school in Washington, D.C., “when it was the murder capital of the country, during the height of the crack epidemic,” she said.
McCloskey praised the “unbelievably extraordinary educators” with and for whom she then worked—educators who taught disproportionately high rates of children who had experienced trauma. These educators, she explained, “understood that the way to combat trauma was not only to acknowledge it and treat it, but to also make no exceptions to the quality of education that we offered.
“We knew that our kids came from tough circumstances, but we also knew that we were never going to make excuses or change what we did because of our kid’s circumstances. Education was not an either/or proposition,” she explained.
McCloskey’s career took her from that DC public school to a suburban Maryland school, then an alternative school in Cleveland, Ohio, and back again to the D.C. area where she served as the director of whole child programming at ASCD. From there, she served as the director of the Maryland No Kid Hungry Campaign for Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending childhood hunger in America.
Now, at Operation Respect, McCloskey has come back to her education/whole child roots where much has changed, yet much remains the same.
“There is no question that anti-bias, anti-bullying, peace education is needed now more now than ever,” she said. “We’ve learned so much about mental health and the damage of trauma and bullying—and how it impacts kids over time. The true extent of trauma has been revealed after years of researching its effects.
“We know, from research on people who live in fear or with anxiety, that a critical part of their brain, the pre-frontal cortex, shuts down. This compromises their ability to pay attention, to analyze information, to function. That’s why it’s critical that we intervene.”
After 15 years of understanding what’s needed to create safe, support environments for children, Operation Respect is well positioned to build on its offerings of meaningful programs, products, and services that are of value to educators, McCloskey said.
“We are the only organization that offers an integrated arts and social emotional learning experience for students,” she said. “We create lessons, opportunities, and activities for teachers to integrate the vocabulary and direct teaching of social-emotional skills with real, sensory-based art that makes the experience more powerful.”